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FLYING Officer Marium Mukhtiar
FLYING Officer Marium Mukhtiar

ISLAMABAD: A woman fighter pilot of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) died in an air crash during a training mission on Tuesday.

According to a PAF statement, Flying Office Marium Mukhtiar was on a training mission with instructor Squadron Leader Saqib Abbasi when their aircraft encountered “a serious in-flight emergency during final stages of the mission”.

The two pilots were flying trainer FT-7PG aircraft, which is the double-seat version of F-7PG.

“The two pilots handled the emergency with professionalism and courage and tried to save the ill-fated aircraft till the very last minute. Ensuring safety of life and property of civilian population on ground, the pilots ejected and the aircraft crashed near Kundian, Mianwali,” the statement said.

Kundian is located some 260km south-west of Islamabad.

The two pilots suffered injuries and were taken to hospital. Flying Officer Marium died at a hospital whereas Squadron Leader Saqib was said to be out of danger.

Ms Marium is the PAF’s first woman pilot to die while on duty.

An investigation into the crash has been launched by the air force.

Born in 1992, Flying Officer Marium was the daughter of an army officer, retired colonel Mukhtiar.

She belonged to Karachi and joined the PAF as a cadet in 2011. She was commissioned as a pilot in October 2014.

In an interview with BBC last year, she had said that she opted to become a fighter pilot because she wanted “to do something different”.

Ms Marium had completed her ‘fighter conversion’ and was undergoing ‘operational conversion’ in Mianwali.

The PAF has been inducting women as pilots since 2005 and got its first female combat pilot in June 2013.

The PAF does not disclose how many trained women pilots are serving in its ranks. However according to a source, it has a couple of dozen women pilots, but very few have qualified to fly fighter jets. “Their numbers will be in single digit,” the source said.

FT-7PG AIRCRAFT: F-7PGs were first inducted in the PAF in 2002 as a replacement for F-6, which were then de-commissioned. The trainer FT-7PGs came later.

The PAF had previously operated F-7Ps.

About seven or eight F-7PGs/FT-7PGs have been lost during the 13 years in service. The PAF has more than 50 of the Chinese-made aircraft in its fleet.

The losses of F-7PGs/FT-7PGs in air crashes are within limit, aviation experts say.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2015